A ray of light in a grey landscape

December 2, 2005

When the Dayton Peace Accords ended the Bosnian war, Zdravko Grebo - who ran a radio station in Sarajevo called Radio Zid (Wall) to keep up the spirits of the young - founded a Law Centre for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies at the University of Sarajevo, writes Kevin Weaver in Sarajevo.

Ten years later, the course still runs. It covers democracy and human rights in the region and around the world, European studies, state management and humanitarian affairs.

Professor Grebo said: "My aim is to counter the brain drain with a brain gain. My graduates are taught in English, we run a credit system and have foreign lecturers. The result is that most of my graduates get jobs in the Government or with foreign agencies; even those who go abroad to finish their MAs return."

Professor Grebo was expelled from the Communist Party in 1988 and came close to losing his chairs in law at Sarajevo and Mostar universities after publishing a paper advocating a free market and press. He wants to develop a generation of educated people free of communist and nationalist baggage.

He advised his students to form an alumni association, the Bosnian Front, which is a nascent political organisation that has more than 300 members and publishes a magazine, organises think-tanks and issues reports.

During the war, Professor Grebo continued lecturing. He once walked for three days over the mountains, crossing two front lines, to lecture in Mostar.

A 2003 UN Development Programme survey found that only 13 per cent of young people enter higher education, feeling the qualifications are worthless because they are not recognised abroad. Bosnia is the only country in Europe with no policy or official state body for youth, although a Youth Information Agency was established this year.

Much of Bosnia's higher education is of a poor standard and spread out over ten cantons. Dayton split Bosnia into two entities: the Federation, made up of Croats and Bosniaks (mainly Muslims), and the Republika Srpska (RS).

The Federation has eight universities - the latest opened in Zenica in February. Two are in Mostar, and only two are in the Republika Srpska.

"There is no umbrella for all these institutions, professors from the two entities do not mix at all," Professor Grebo said.

"Education is of national interest, and language dialects are used as an excuse for remaining separate. But the fact that books for courses are usually bought in English, French or German makes a further mockery of this."

The Framework Law of Higher Education, rejected in May 2004, on the issue of language, would make universities' accounts transparent, make self-governing bodies accountable, assess the quality of teaching and introduce two-cycle degrees to increase student mobility.

Dropout rates are high. Of 54,000 students in the Federation, only 4,700 (10 per cent) graduated. Just 1,300 of 21,600 students in the Republika Srpska graduate. Students have many financial constraints, poor teachers and few job opportunities. Oral exams, which are open to corruption, are the norm. There is no credit transfer and high costs put many people off postgraduate study.

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